Pompeii in peril

Domus collapses following heavy rains

Editorial Staff
November 18, 2010

Despite being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii has been in a chronic state of neglect ever since. This neglect and poor maintenance is the culprit behind the collapse of an ancient domus on November 6, authorities claim.


Called the House of Gladiators, the domus was once owned by gladiator Marcus Lucretius Fronto and later used by gladiators training for combat.


Although the 2,000-year-old domus is usually closed to the public, it is one of the most important in Pompeii because of the elaborate frescos depicting military emblems located in its lower area. The frescoes ‘could likely be restored,' said Culture minister Sandro Bondi, who was asked to resign following the building's collapse.


Remarking on the collapse, which followed a period of heavy rain, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano said in a press statement, ‘We should all feel shame for what happened.'


One of the most important archaeological sites in the world, Pompeii attracts big crowds. It drew over 2.2 million visitors in the first 10 months of 2010, generating roughly 23.8 million dollars. Despite its annual revenue, the site has for years suffered from a chronic shortage of funding and mismanagement.


On a visit to analyze the damage, Bondi warned that other buildings in Pompeii could also collapse, urging government officials to allocate funding for the domus' restoration. Given the large number of buildings that need repair, further damage is virtually ‘inevitable,' said Daniela Leone, a spokesperson for Pompeii's archaeological superintendence. ‘This is a vast area that requires maintenance, resources,' she said. Days after the collapse, government officials set up a special task force to secure other buildings at risk.


According to officials, Italy's cultural ministry gets a mere 0.18 per cent of the national budget, compared to 1 percent in France. It is not enough to care for and maintain, much less improve, Italy's many architectural, archaeological and artistic treasures, ministry officials claim. 


The incident sparked nationwide debate on the poor state of other monuments throughout Italy. ‘With no maintenance and non-existent funds, the whole of Italy is at risk of collapsing,' said Alessandra Mottola Molfino, head of Our Italy, a not-for-profit organisation. ‘Every single historical monument in the country is at risk of the same fate as Pompeii, from the dome of Florence Cathedral to Nero's Golden House in Rome and the ancient walls in cities like Lucca in Tuscany.'



What do you think?

Budgets for the arts and culture have been hit hard during the economic crisis. The Italian government is cutting a total of 280 million euro from culture budgets over the next three years, including 58 million euro a year from the culture ministry alone, despite the fact that Italy, with 45 in total, boasts the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world. However, culture is increasingly viewed as an industry able to generate significant levels of revenue. Do you think that the culture-as-business paradigm has the potential to drive the Italian economy? If so, would a more vital and distinctive cultural economy be enough to save Italy's heritage from deterioration and neglect?


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